On Tuesday the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee held the first oral...Read more
MPs met for a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday 1 December on employment in rural and coastal communities, in a discussion that touched upon several of the themes on which the Countryside Alliance has campaigned for many years.
The debate was led by Virginia Crosbie MP (Ynys Môn, Con) who began by outlining the broad range of policy areas the issue touches upon: social and economic patterns, transportation, digital connectivity and business health. As a Welsh MP she was strongly critical of Welsh Government initiatives, such as its 20 mile per hour speed restrictions given its impact on public transport timetables, cancellation of roadbuilding and hikes to business rates.
She went on to relate the conditions in her constituency: as in December’s debate on housing in tourists hotspots, she outlined that the high proportion of holiday homes and retirees in the area is driving up property prices and pushing working people out. She concluded by reiterating the importance of a cross-government approach to rural and coastal employment.
Peter Aldous MP (Waveney, Con) followed, the coastal area of his constituency being that of Lowestoft (after which the constituency will be renamed from the next election). He presented three key challenges to the Government: allow a revision to his local Enterprise Zone, reinstate and better target the former Coastal Communities Fund and revisit a local bid to set up a technology institute.
Steven Bonnar MP (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, SNP) described Scotland’s rural and coastal communities as facing a depopulation crisis. Highlighting the significance of the agricultural sector, he noted challenges such as the impact of Brexit on industries and labour shortages. While praising the Scottish Government’s efforts, including a rural visa pilot and infrastructure investment, he concluded with his party’s familiar refrain that it can only do so much without Scotland becoming an independent country.
Vicky Foxcroft MP (Lewisham, Deptford, Lab) spoke for the Opposition front bench. She emphasised the unique challenges faced by these communities, including economic inactivity, deprivation, and poor infrastructure. As Shadow Minister for Disabled People, she noted the high economic inactivity due to long-term sickness in coastal communities. Criticising the Government’s levelling-up missions for not specifically targeting rural and coastal areas, she pledged that a future Labour Government would prioritise cross-government collaboration to address challenges, improve job opportunities, develop affordable housing and invest in green industries to promote a resurgence in coastal communities.
Closing on behalf of the Government, Work and Pensions Minister Paul Maynard MP (Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Con) agreed with other Members as to the multifaceted nature of the issue, connecting it to public health, transport and housing. He outlined some of his Department’s initiatives to address barriers such as limited digital connectivity and seasonal work, highlighting support for specific demographic groups, including the 50-plus age group and disabled individuals. He also brought up government programs, such as the coastal communities fund and levelling-up fund, that aim to unlock economic potential in these areas. He concluded by expressing the government's commitment to levelling up employment opportunities in rural and coastal regions.
The Countryside Alliance will continue our relentless campaign to promote strong, resilient communities in rural areas including around the coast. To support our work, please consider becoming a member today.